Penelope gate


She is someone I can relate to. An English speaker, about my age, married to a Frenchman. Which makes the uproar currently sweeping our nation, the so-called ‘Penelope gate’, all the more disturbing.

I know almost nothing about Penelope Fillon, née Clarke, except that she is said to be from Wales and has been married to François Fillon, former Prime Minister (under Sarkozy) and the Republican candidate for the upcoming French presidential election in May.

When I learned that Fillon’s wife was Welsh, he immediately went up in my esteem. That she was shy and stayed out of the limelight made her seem rather sympathetic; her role as a stay-at-home mother of five perhaps less so. Often referred to by the media as Catholic and ‘deeply conservative’, Fillon has been accused of wanting to revoke abortion rights (something he has publicly refuted, stating that his personal convictions and the rights of women in this country are two separate matters).

It came to light last week that Penelope had received large sums of money as her husband’s ‘parliamentary assistant’ and later as a contributor to a political review. The left-leaning Canard Enchainé newspaper revealed the amounts, up to 900 K euros, over a 10-year period and suggested that it was in the guise of an ‘emploi fictif’, i.e. that she was paid to do nothing.

If there is one thing that French voters are sensitive to, it is the suggestion that someone has been paid for nothing. In an age of high unemployment, where so many people scrape to get by, the idea of our leaders taking advantage of the system to funnel money into their own households is unpalatable to say the least.

The unfortunate affair is now in the hands of the courts. In theory, there was nothing illegal in an elected official hiring members of his own family to do things like research his speeches, organize his schedule and do whatever else an assistant would do – giving birth to some interesting memes.


It will be hard to prove that Penelope did not earn the salary she received, which was fully declared for tax purposes. But the mere suggestion of such corruption has tarnished Fillon’s image in the eyes of a good part of the voting public – perhaps irrevocably.

François Fillon has taken the moral high ground in his campaign, declaring that if he is under any kind of investigation, he will not run. He has also pointed the finger at his opponents on the left, accusing them of the worst sort of mud-slinging, even a ‘coup d’état’.

It’s a political scandal with a potentially disastrous fall-out. The conservative votes that would normally have gone to Fillon, should he not be a viable candidate, will now be split between the left and the extreme right.

Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party has been left in ruins. It began with the defection of Emmanuel Macron, his former economy minister, who is leading his own presidential run as a free ‘centrist’ candidate. The Socialists’ official candidate, Benoît Hamon, is a ‘frondeur’ – a rebel of sorts – seen by some as a utopian. On the far right, rubbing her hands together like Wile E. Coyote, is Marine Le Pen.

While Fillon waits for the courts to decide whether or not to open an inquiry, the pack of hyenas who call themselves journalists in this country have already torn him apart and declared him an unfit candidate. ‘Presumed innocent’ hangs vaguely in the air while they speculate over campaign tactics and a potential plan B for the right.

In the meantime, I feel for Penelope. It can’t be easy to be a shy person who is suddenly cast into the worst kind of public scrutiny. I’ve never heard her speak on camera, so I don’t know how she handles herself in French. The suspense won’t last long – the investigative news magazine Envoyé Spécial is said to have an ‘incriminating’ interview with her which will air tonight.

Penelope gate, as the French have dubbed the affair, continues. Stay tuned.


  1. Carolyn · February 2, 2017

    Good summary of the mess in current French politics.
    So many of our ‘députés’ are totally disconected from the real world. They are given a lump some of money to spend on their office organisation and are vigourously defending their right to ‘Spend our money as we se fit’ – THE PUBLIC’S MONEY. No contracts for the people they employ ‘assistants parlementaires’. This system needs bringing up to date and should show total transparency.
    Of course, does give everyone a lot to talk about ….

    • MELewis · February 2, 2017

      Thanks, glad you found it true to reality. I find French politics intimidating at times as the whole system seems so complex. But after all these years, guess I’m finally beginning to see how things work. You are well placed to judge! 😉 I agree with you, there needs to be more transparency. At the same time, people in public office at the highest level work much harder for less pay they would in the private sector (in theory) so I think there should be some ‘discretionary’ flexibility. But I don’t think most French people would agree.

  2. francetaste · February 2, 2017

    An ambitious politician like Fillon should have thought ahead about such things. He got sloppy. People who are sloppy shouldn’t be president. It’s true that there’s no law against nepotism, but he should have made sure his wife did something tangible. Or got paid less, for crying out loud. €90K a year is more than a family practice physician earns (I just looked these up for a post I did earlier this week). This also was the problem with DSK: that he thought he could get away with bad behavior. Even Hillary Clinton–she never crossed the line into wrongdoing, but she too often got close to it. (Never mind her opponent, who crossed lines whenever possible; his supporters love that about him, and don’t forget he lost the popular vote, so plenty of people disapprove.)
    If Penelope had done real work, you would think it would have been proven by now.
    There are many things I don’t trust about Fillon (religious conservatism, lack of worry about Russia), but listening to him in the debates, he sounded like he had some decent ideas for reviving the economy.
    One thing is sure: Le Pen would make the economy far worse.

    • MELewis · February 2, 2017

      Your post earlier this week was excellent – and this reminds me that I intended to leave a comment (will scoot on over after this…). I agree that Fillon’s platform is solid despite his conservatism and I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt at least while the jury is out but I fear that French voters won’t be convinced. As for the FN, Le Pen would be a disaster, although I still doubt it will happen.

    • She gave an interview to the British Press a few years ago in which she said in no uncertain terms she had never been her husband’s assistant or worked for him in any capacity. Tee-hee 😀

      • MELewis · February 2, 2017

        I think a lot of people will be watching that interview tonight.

      • MELewis · February 2, 2017

        To be fair, she doesn’t actually say (at least in the story, the video has been removed) that she had not worked for him – simply that she had no role as ‘second lady’ in Matignon and preferred to be home with her horses in the country.

      • I believe the video with the quotes in question is going to be shown tonight. The precise words were I have never been his assistant and I’ve never handled his correspondence or anything like that. Even Le Figaro is reporting it and they’re on his side, so I imagine there’s substance to the allegations.

      • “Ce soir, la diffusion d’extraits inédits de cet entretien par le magazine d’Elise Lucet, Envoyé Spécial, risque d’embarrasser un peu plus la défense du candidat de la droite à la présidentielle. Ce document vidéo de 45 minutes, qui n’est plus consultable sur internet”

  3. Suzanne et Pierre · February 2, 2017

    Certainly an interesting time in France right now and I am now more fearful than ever that Le Pen will win. The other parties are in such disarray that I think she will get through which will be a very sad day for France. I am still hoping that people will go vote to block her but then I think that like in the US most people will stay at home because they are too disconnected from politics and think their vote doesn’t count. Though because of your 2 round system maybe there is still a chance to block her…but again I am not that optimistic. I can only cross fingers that people will come to their senses after watching what Trump is doing in the US…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · February 2, 2017

      Right now MLP is predicted to win the first round but it would be, in my opinion, highly unlikely that she would get a majority in the second round. But we seem to be living in such crazy times that who knows? All we can do is hope for the best – and try to ‘resist’ as best we can. Despite my frequent criticisms, I have faith in the French. 🙂

      • Suzanne et Pierre · February 2, 2017

        I do cross my fingers and hope you are right…If you haven’t read it yet you might be interested by two books by an Israeli historian: Yuval Noah Harari: Homo Sapien: A brief history of humankind and the darker Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow where the author claims that our species is on a path of self-destruction. Both very interesting read!

      • memoirsofahusk · February 3, 2017

        Treat some of the stuff on early humans with caution – or so says my in-house stone-age expert!

      • Suzanne et Pierre · February 3, 2017

        I treat everything with caution. But I thought these two books raised interesting questions and were interesting to spark interesting debates.

      • MELewis · February 3, 2017

        I will definitely check them out, thanks Suzanne!

  4. memoirsofahusk · February 2, 2017

    Sigh. Why can’t people just be honest and straightforward? No, don’t answer that. Even if they are the enemy will make sure any little loophole is exaggerated. Smoke without fire is still smoke and stills makes a stain. Truth lies bleeding. It is no wonder people are rebelling over politics around the world.

    • MELewis · February 2, 2017

      You are right – even honest and straightforward is somehow deemed wrong these days. Maybe our system is about to self-destruct? In any case, I have a feeling we are witnessing a kind of revolution.

  5. M. L. Kappa · February 3, 2017

    *Sigh* Its always difficult to know what to believe exactly. On the one hand, it seems the minute someone gets in a position of power, they abuse it, usually to their own profit (to get money or services, or pay indirectly for future votes). And this happens everywhere in the world. On the other hand, journalists are so vicious about digging up dirt about everyone, that nobody decent ever goes into politics. Let’s face it, every family has skeletons in its closets – by running for office, you expose your nearest and dearest as well as yourself to untold misery. I would not encourage my children to get involved, but I would still dearly love to have better leaders than we do. A vicious circle…

  6. M. L. Kappa · February 3, 2017

    What was the interview like? I didn’t get to watch…

    • MELewis · February 3, 2017

      I did not find it all that shocking. She was talking casually in a café about the fact that she preferred the country life and was not his assistant nor responsible for his communication. Does that mean she did not perform legitimate work that was fairly compensated? Personally, I am not convinced by this so-called ‘confession’. Time will tell!

  7. acflory · February 4, 2017

    Here in Australia, we have a concept called the ‘pub test’. It revolves around the public’s perception of what is right, or morally ‘correct’. If a politician does something that is not illegal, but perceived to be dodgy by the public, that politician is in big trouble. Just recently, a Cabinet Minister was forced to resign because she had transacted private business whilst supposedly travelling interstate on government business [and of course, her travel expenses were paid for by the State].
    I feel for the wife, but the husband has been naive, to say the least.

    • MELewis · February 5, 2017

      We are not yet at that level of moral uprightness here in France. In fact, one of the reasons Marine Le Pen, among others, has been relatively quiet around the whole scandal is that it’s said she has some of her own skeletons lurking in the closet. Not sure if any French politician is really squeaky clean, but there is a trend towards more transparency and accountability. I am keeping an open mind about Fillon because he really is a good candidate in every other way. Thanks for sharing your Aussie insights – I have a whole new level of respect for your politicians since I heard your guy hung up on Trump! 😀

      • acflory · February 5, 2017

        There was a snippet on the news tonight about a new candidate – young guy, can’t remember his name – who’s not affiliated with any of the major parties. Apparently, he’s a possibility. Heard of him at all?

  8. MELewis · February 5, 2017

    Oops, can’t reply directly to your comment this far down the chain, Meeks. But yes, that would be Emmanuel Macron (whom I mentioned in passing). He is a very strong contender, and has made the upstart decision to run as an independent, effectively setting our party system on its ear – a good thing, in my view. Macron has some interesting ideas, and is very charismatic. He is also married to a woman over 20 years his senior, his former high school French teacher! But he is quite young, around 40, so I’m not sure he will have what it takes to lead France just yet. The voice of reason has seemed to be François, at least until last week, who is urging the French to swallow some tough medicine to get the economy back on track. But Macron is definitely one to to watch, and could well be our next President.

  9. Osyth · February 7, 2017

    I can’t bring myself to say it won’t happen (MLP I mean) having confidently said Brexit would never happen and Trump would never happen …. I think perhaps if I keep my big mouth shut *it won’t happen* 😉. Great précis of the stuff that is keeping the rag-mongers in print by the way

    • MELewis · February 8, 2017

      I can sympathize, having also been caught believing such horrors would never happen. But I do remain optimistic for the French presidential campaign. Fillon is holding tight against the accusations and looks likely to maintain his run which is a very bad thing for the far right. I’ve never been one to keep quiet about these things so I will keep bellowing my opinions regardless! 🙂

      • Osyth · February 9, 2017

        Bellow away and don’t be surprised if I break my silence …. I have a lifelong habit of sticking my head up above the trench regardless of whether it is likely to be blown off and I can’t see this being the time to go all shy!

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